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Review: Nicholas Sparks’ ‘Deliverance Creek’ flows in a direct route

Lauren Ambrose stars as Belle Barlowe, whose husband is off at war as guests arrive on her land.
Lauren Ambrose stars as Belle Barlowe, whose husband is off at war as guests arrive on her land.
(Zade Rosenthal / Lifetime)
Los Angeles Times Television Critic

The name of author Nicholas Sparks — the publishing phenomenon responsible for “The Notebook,” “A Walk to Remember” and many other works of bestselling, often cinematically adapted romantic fiction — is prominently attached, as executive producer, to “Deliverance Creek,” a Civil War western that airs Saturday on Lifetime. So there’s that.

Promoted as “Nicholas Sparks’s First Original Television Event,” the film, when first announced, was described as a “back-door pilot,” and, even at two hours, it is only as a pilot that it makes much sense. Characters and conflicts pile in as if this were the last bus off the island, and arrive at nothing that constitutes either an ending (to any of its many strands) nor, in its inconclusiveness, a statement about life, or people, or ambiguity or anything.

Written by Melissa Carter (“Little Black Book”), it is nowhere called a pilot now — which seems to say that this is all you will be seeing of “Deliverance Creek.” But it’s diverting enough while it goes by, even if you can see where the story’s going long before it gets there. And although it is less expressive of the historical period than it is of movie traditions and contemporary mores, the performances are appealing, the production solid and the scenery pretty.

Lauren Ambrose, whom it is always nice to see, plays Belle Barlowe, a Missouri farmer and mother of three, whose husband has disappeared in the war, fighting for the South. Onto her property come all manner of guests, invited and otherwise, in great number.

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These include an amorous sheriff (Wes Ramsey); an unsavory neighbor (Barry Tubb) whose heartless wife (Katherine Willis) runs the local bank; her anti-slavery Union-siding sister (Caitlin Custer), working with the underground railroad; a brother (Christopher Backus) leading a gang of Confederate bushwhackers into bank robbing; an old boyfriend (Riley Smith); and a runaway house slave (Yaani King), who has incidentally acquired the skills of a master criminal. Skeet Ulrich plays the local saloon keeper, who has transformed his establishment from “a dirty run-down whorehouse” into “a whorehouse.”

Belle’s only real allegiance is to her farm and her family, which she will defend with pitchfork or shotgun as the scene demands. (“Tongues wag no matter what I do,” she says.)

It’s not surprising, given Sparks’ involvement, that the female characters carry the movie — the strongest characters, the most practical, the least conventional, the ones who look the situation square in the eye and do what needs to be done. (This is as true of the film’s villainess as it is of its three heroines.) When “Deliverance Creek” turns into a caper film in its last third — yes, it does — it’s the women who do the thinking.

The men tend to need encouragement, guidance and correction. Some will see this as merely true to life.

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‘Deliverance Creek’

Where: Lifetime

When: 8 and 10 p.m. Saturday

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Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)


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